How To Bet On Melodifestivalen 2021
For the upcoming six Saturdays we are treated to the biggest national final of them all, Melodifestivalen. The competition to select Sweden’s Eurovision artist attracts the highest TV viewing figures in the nation and is consistently backed up by big name artists bringing songs that dominate the charts all spring.
For us, it is also comfortably the national final that is the biggest betting event. Part of that is because of the millions of people watching and the relatively high interest in gambling in Sweden (until recently, there was sponsorship of Melodifestivalen by gambling companies in the country). Another reason is because broadcaster SVT creates a drip feed of information to build up excitement for the show. Whereas most countries reveal the songs, wait a few weeks, and then have a competition, in Sweden there is a slow reveal of snippets about the songs and artists that gets more and more intense until the live performance - which is the first time you get to hear the full song.
The betting markets follow this pattern intensely. When SVT revealed the running order for this year’s show, with Eric Saade as artist number 28 of 28, his odds dropped near instantaneously to become the favourite. Similarly I remember a time in 2019 when a one minute clip of Lisa Ajax’s song Torn was released to much critical acclaim and joined the favourites. Sadly that ballad didn’t have the same level of dynamism through the full three minutes, and by performance day the song had drifted in the market again. With all of these opportunities and nuggets of information there are plenty of opportunities to place bets ahead of the market moves.
That SVT encourages this is a fascinating and frankly genius part of their production that helps make this show so engaging. There is always a story to write about who will or won't qualify. I call this the ‘speculation storyline’ and wrote this piece previously for ESC Insight about it.
So far this year we already know who is competing in which of the four heats, and their running order in each show. Now I must warn people that the speculation storyline will be different this year with less information to go on than in previous years. The reason for this is Covid-19 and specifically that the show is taking place without an audience. Two parts of the puzzle have already been dropped. The first of them is the rehearsals on the Thursday of each week, where press were allowed to watch in the arena and blog/tweet etc about each act's success. That has been replaced by some videos that will be published for the press on Thursday evening. We also lost this year the Friday dress rehearsal with a paying audience, and therefore the audience poll that has been a surprisingly reliable proxy for Saturday night success.
If you are looking to get ahead of the game, the first important snippet of information will be revealed at 1100 CET on Wednesday (note, earlier than the 1800 CET it was in non-Covid years), as we journalists get to listen to the songs in a behind closed doors reveal. I will have access, and will be live tweeting @bensvision if any of you want to hear my opinions on the songs. I’m not the only person listening though and I recommend keeping an eye on other, more notable (and more Swedish) opinions. For example the excellent Schlagerprofilerna (who usually comment on their Instagram page) and Tobbe Ek from Aftonbladet (who usually writes on his blog page) are reliable experts who’ve done this many times and what they say has a far bigger impact on the market than what my daft opinion is. Dust off your google translate skills if you need to.
We anticipate that there will be short snippets of the songs available on Thursday for members of the public to listen to. This is the normal procedure at least, but that has not been confirmed at the moment (we will update the article if we hear more). No doubt the press reviews of the Thursday full videos will also be critiqued and analysed by myself and many others.
All the above is important because all of this will continuously move the market, and in previous years I have found it possible on good runs to guarantee profit for all outcomes by placing the right bets at the right time and predicting market swings. Both the Betfair Exchange and Smarkets have opportunities to bet on not just the winner of Melodifestivalen, but also whether an act will qualify in the top two from each heat. These are the main betting markets that exist, and during the heats the in-play qualifying markets can be quite fruitful as well.
Swedish bookmakers, in particular Svenska Spel, offer more options, including betting on who gets to the Andra Chansen round (those finishing 3rd or 4th in their heats) as well as head-to-head and last place betting odds. These secondary markets can provide some great value due to the nature of entertainment betting rather than sport betting. Usually the odds in these markets are transposed from the odds of the act qualifying directly, which can underplay the odds of certain songs that can easily secure a mid-table finish, but have little chance of victory. For example there may be a very low possibility of a traditional Swedish dansband qualifying directly to the final, but there is still enough love of the genre from its hardcore fanbase to squeeze 4th place more often than not.
You may hear me talk about songs or artists which have a large standard deviation by this I mean that they have potential to do really well, or really badly, with less chance of an average result. Dotter, one of this year's favourites, is an example of this, with one Melfest hit and one flop to her name.
Understanding the voting is a difficult concept, and I’ll link below to some of my ESC Insight pieces from previous years to try and explain its impact. In short 7/8ths of the voting happens on a button-bashing official app and 1/8th is a televote. Viewers rank each song out of 5 stars on the app, and the number of stars is the number of votes you give that song. Compared to a traditional televote this favours pop numbers where the radio-friendly sound is often enough to get 3’s and 4’s from lots of the population, which is better than 5’s and 0’s. Melodifestivalen is a much harder competition to win if you don’t have a pop flavoured number than other national finals.
Also remember that, for the competition’s final, half the points are by an international jury. Made up usually from other TV stations SVT has contact with, they are asked simply ‘which song will do best in Eurovision?’ Generally these vote for the slickest numbers, and songs in the Swedish language usually are out of the running by this stage. Note that Sweden is the only country since the language rule last changed at the end of the 20th century never to perform in their native language at the Eurovision Song Contest.
The final thing to note about the voting is that this app is age-graded. Users input their age when they sign in and are then split into groups, ranging from 3-10 to the over 75s, with each group providing an equal share of the public-awarded points. The difference can be staggering - in last year's final Anna Bergendahl won the three older age categories and the televote, but was in the bottom two and scored zero points from both child groups. To be in the mix to win or qualify, you need to have an act that will get points from all age groups.
Acts in previous years such as Dolly Style may have come close to winning the popular vote, but their votes almost all came from children thus limiting them to a 5th place in a 2019 heat where they were 2.0 on the day. The televote basically has the same taste as the older categories, so it is fair to say that the median age of the Melodifestivalen voting score is 45. Worth thinking about.
If you are up for a rollercoaster ride of a National Final then Melodifestivalen provides the betting market with the most ups and downs throughout the season. Check out the latest odds here and may the best song win!
ESC Insight - Understanding Melodifestivalen’s Voting System
ESC Insight - Given Three Year Olds the Melodifestivalen Vote